Friday, November 25, 2011

K-9 Stray Rescue League, Teacher's Pet to benefit from fundraiser

Two really fabulous nonprofit groups focused on helping dogs get adopted will benefit from a fundraiser scheduled for Dec. 4 at the Grand Traverse Pie Company in Troy.

If you want to be there, make sure you register by noon this Sunday.

Order tickets by contacting Ken and Nancy at or calling 248-489-0732.

Find all the information you need by viewing Fundraiser will benefit K-9 Stray Rescue League, Teacher's Pet

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ace the emaciated pit bull euthanized by City of Detroit's Animal Control

My instincts are telling me that while the story of Ace was gaining national attention this week, little Ace himself was already gone.
The announcement came last night that Ace was euthanized by Detroit's Animal Control. I don't really believe that Ace was actually euthanized yesterday, though.
I think he was likely euthanized the very day, and maybe even within a matter of hours, of being brought to animal control.
I have no information on which to back up this theory of mine. It's just a feeling.
But let's consider the circumstances. First, you have an organization with a policy to euthanize all pit bulls not claimed by their owners. Second, you have a pit bull who is on death's door when he arrives at the facility. Third, he appears to be a stray.
I just don't think this dog was given the time of day, especially considering his health.
Later in the week, people came forward as Ace's owner. Perhaps they were being truthful and really believed the dog belonged to them or perhaps they were just trying to pull off a white lie to save a dog's life. We'll never know.
In one report, a nursing student from Detroit claimed Ace was her dog, stolen from her a long time ago. But when she went to the shelter and asked to see him, she was led to a dog that, she said, was most definitely not Ace.
We likely will never know who is being truthful or what really happened, but I saw a picture of the dog this woman was led to on TV one night this week (I can't find that report now or I'd shared it here. Sorry!). The dog she was brought to looked about 10 pounds heavier than the photos being circulated of Ace as he was found earlier this week.
I have a hard time believing a dog can put on 10 pounds in three days.
Ironically, the nursing student said she named her dog (presumably Ace, before he was stolen) DooDoo as a puppy.
I think that's a pretty accurate way to label this whole mess — a bunch of doodoo on the face of Detroit.

Last night's report on Channel 7

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thousands show support for saving Ace, emaciated pit bull scheduled to be euthanized in Detroit

As the clock ticks down to Friday — the day emaciated stray Ace, a pit bull, is scheduled to be euthanized — the number of people fighting to save him continues to grow.
Personally, I cannot see how Detroit can allow this stray to be euthanized.
Policies and politics and pit bull rhetoric aside, the sheer amount of bad press this story is generating for the City of Detroit makes it seem impossible that the euthanasia will actually occur.
After seeing last night's TV report on FOX2, which mentioned an upcoming meeting between a rescue group and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, it looks to me like Bing will get to be the hero that saves Ace's life.
And if he doesn't, Bing will certainly be nabbed as the villain that killed him.
As for the policy that is mandating Ace's euthanasia, I can only say I struggle to define my own opinion on it.
It seems perfectly reasonable that any dog, regardless of breed, ought to have the opportunity to be transferred to a rescue if a rescue so requests it. That, at least, I'm clear on.
But with my husband working in the gritty neighborhoods and alleyways of Detroit five days a week for the past few years, I am all too familiar with the stray dog problem in Detroit. And yes, my husband reports, a great majority of those strays appear to be pits or pit mixes.
We buy dog food for him to bring to work. Most of the guys on his crew do the same. Sometimes, if working in same block for a few days at a time, he'll come back with success stories of finally getting one dog or another to approach him or take food from his hand.
These are feral dogs, most likely born that way, and most likely living short and difficult lives. Most of the dogs he sees are emaciated. A feral life is not an easy one for a dog.
I don't know what the answer is, but I know the situation is a sad one.
I hope Ace's story will have a happy ending. God knows the city needs it.

Find petitions and contribute to saving Ace.

Join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Read the story, Detroit's pit bull policy causes outcry after malnourished dog Ace remains scheduled for euthanasia this week

Monday, November 7, 2011

Taking my dog camping: “What are all these dogs doing here, Mom?”

For the bulk of Sensi’s life, we lived in a place that was set far back from the road. You couldn’t see the road at all from the house and Sensi grew accustomed to the privacy. He saw people walking dogs during our walks, but never saw people walking dogs in front of his home.
Alert Sensi
Now, we do live in a house where Sensi can see people walking or riding bikes from the front window or when he’s out in the yard. If he’s outside, he gets upset and barks at them.
With all the time I’ve spent gardening this year — and Sensi outside with me — I came across a great phrase to calm him down. I can’t say with any certainty that he really understands what I’m saying, perhaps it’s just the positive association he has with the words I use, but I’d like to think he does understand, even if just a little.
One day, we were in the front yard — me knuckle deep in the flower beds, Sensi sunbathing on the driveway — when a lady walked by with her dog. Sensi began barking. I walked over to him to calm him down, kneeled down beside him and said, “That’s a nice lady walking a nice dog. Don’t you like to go on walks, Sensi? That’s what they’re doing. They’re going for a walk.”
He calmed down right away, looking intently at my face like he was really trying to understand. And, I’m sure, wondering if we were going to go for a walk.
We didn’t.
I went back to gardening.
About 10 minutes later, two women walked by. Sensi barked once, then stopped and looked at me. I walked over to him, again saying, “Those are nice ladies going for a walk. You like going for walks, right?”
About 10 minutes after that, the first lady with dog returned, likely walking back down the road to her house. Sensi got to his feet, but did not bark. I walked over to him anyway and said the “walk” thing again.
About 15 minutes after that, the two women walkers returned. Sensi lifted his head but didn’t even bother standing up.
This experience gave me the courage that Sensi could handle a campground and all the activity going on. It showed that he can acclimate, and that there’s a very good phrase I can use to help him do it.
We arrived at our campsite at about 6 p.m. on a Tuesday evening. Right off the bat, there were plenty of people walking dogs by our site.
Sensi, in a new place and I’m sure a nervous and excitable because of it, barked ferociously at the first person who walked by with dogs. He calmed down reasonably well, me using the “walk” phrase.
A few more dog walkers later and he wasn’t barking anymore at them. Just watching. And he’d cast a glance at me, as if to ask, “What are all these dogs doing here, Mom?”
Of course, all this activity meant we had to be on our game.
It’s always better to stop a behavior before it starts — using the “walk” thing is way to react to the situation, but it’s always better to prevent a behavior if you can.
Like being at a park, I watched him closely for signs that a person or dog would be passing by. As with most dogs, Sensi’s behavior can indicate what’s going to happen before it does. I know, from watching him, whether there’s an off-leash dog in close proximity while at the park. He’ll sniff the air, his body will tense and he will suddenly become focused in one direction.
That’s when I holler to my group, “There’s a dog around here somewhere, everyone stop and be on the look-out.”
See the treat pouch? It's my new favorite thing.
And it never fails. Within seconds, a dog will come breaking through the brush with no owner in sight. Then, it’s Brent’s job to catch the loose dog before it rushes up to Sensi. You wouldn’t believe what an excellent loose-dog catcher he’s become over the years.
In the campground, I watched for the same behaviors to let me know if a dog walker was just about ready to come into sight.
I learned, the very first night around the campfire, that having my Planet Dog treat pouch at my side was going to be a necessity throughout the trip.
As soon as I saw Sensi tense up, I redirected his attention with treats. Doing that meant being able to avert the whole, “That’s a nice dog walking” thing, because by the time the dog finally walked by, Sensi didn’t care anymore. He was focused entirely on getting that piece of dried lamb lung from my hot little hands. 
Lamb lung, by the way, stinks. It's awful smelling. But dogs go crazy for it, so it was important tool for keeping the peace in the campground.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Taking my dog camping: Thank God for friends, and thank God for the Jeep

Allison with Sensi in Benzie
Friends of ours, Alan and Allison, joined us on our trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I call this place Benzie — you can find out why by reading my article, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: The most beautiful place in America — and for all future references in this space, I’m going to call it that. It’s what I’ve always called it and I’m not stopping now. So remember, Benzie = Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
My dog loves Alan and Allison, who put in some serious work to become Sensi’s most beloved friends. Read about that here: Introducing my fearful dog to new people, a summer of hard work and great success
Having them with us made me all the more comfortable with bringing Sensi to a campground for the first time ever. Bringing a dog with fear issues into a busy place like a campground is a full-time job, and the more people you have with you to help out, the easier it is for everyone.
Alan and Allison have a big truck. The two guys towed our outrageously heavy pop-up with that (it’s a
The 1970s Rockwood pop-up
1970s Rockwood, family heirloom, I suppose, and weighs a ton).
Allison and I drove together in the Jeep, which left the backseat open for Sensi. Sensi has mixed emotions about car rides.
He knows that cars take him places he loves to go, so he loves to go into cars. But the actual ride he does not care for so much.
He is not so anxious on car rides that he needs medication, as some dogs do. He just has a hard time settling down. Every bump makes him nervous (can you imagine how upset he must’ve been when we moved down a perennially-bumpy dirt road?), so even if you finally get him to lay down, he pops up with every bump the car hits.
Sensi grew up riding in my old Cutlass Ciera. It had a bench seat in the front and a bench seat in the back. Sensi grew accustomed to having a bench seat, and after a good long walk at the park, he’d get tired enough to sometimes lay down during the car ride home.
After the Cutlass died, we only had Brent’s truck, which has fold-down seats in the back. This means Sensi has to stand on the floor of the vehicle when riding in the truck. Every little vibration becomes that much more noticeable to him. He hates riding in the truck.
But when we brought the Jeep home a couple years ago, it was like Sensi knew, right away, that it was ours and he was pumped about it. He had a friggin’ bench seat again, and my goodness, what a difference it makes for him.
Earlier this year, I bought a dog hammock for the backseat. It’s a great investment. Loops strap it to the
The backseat hammock
two seats in front and two more loops secure it to the back of the bench seat. It means he doesn’t have to worry about falling into that space where we humans put our legs. It made a good thing (the bench seat) even better for him.
On top of that, we piled up all his bedding (and remember, my dog is the king of comfort) on the hammock.
In total, we brought one dog bed, one body pillow donated to the dog and three blankets — one fleece, one microfiber (his favorite) and his special afghan.
Allison got to experience the joy of a nearly five hour car trip with my dog. She was the designated behavior guide for him — meaning, it was her job to dispense treats in order for successful lay-down commands. And those commands had to come after every single little bump in the road.
Sensi on our way up north
“Geez Sensi,” Allison said at one point. “You’ve got the most comfortable seat of all of us. If you don’t take advantage of it, I’m going to get back there and take a nap and you can sit your butt up here.”
It was pretty ridiculous, but all things considered, it was also the best Sensi has ever been on a long car ride. With the help of some treats, he did lay down for most the ride — of course, we stopped along the way for potty-and-stretch-the-legs breaks.
And I found myself thanking God for the Jeep.
And for Allison.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Taking my dog camping: It’s about time

If you’ve ever had a dog from puppydom right on through to senior citizenhood, you know as well as I that after so many years, you think you know everything about your dog. That there are no surprises left.
But time after time, Sensi proves me wrong.
Even though Sensi is now almost 9 years old, our September camping trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was his first time in a campground.
Not that he’d never experienced “up north” vacations before. Up until he was about 5, we’d take regular trips with some friends of ours to their property in Northern Michigan. He lived for those trips — off leash with a pack of dog friends to keep in order, morning romps through the woods, late nights curled up by the fire and an endless bounty of sticks to turn into mulch. On really cold nights, he’d ask to climb under the covers with us in our tent. And when we got the pop-up camper, he thought he was king of up north with so many different cushion-laden sleeping areas to choose from.
In recent years, we haven’t taken those trips anymore. Last year, Brent and I finally got ourselves back up north, pitching a tent at beautiful Higgins Lake for a less-than-beautiful (it rained ALL weekend) last-minute Labor Day weekend. We choose not to bring Sensi — see the post, Not a campground dog — and were so grateful we did.
The state park we stayed in was packed with campers and dogs, many of which were not on-leash. The campsites were so close together that there was no semblance of privacy. And the cold, wet weather would’ve had my dog endlessly depressed.
But this year, we were finally going back to the land that stole my heart as a child. The place I know like the back of my hand. The campground I treasured for two weeks every summer. 
Beautiful, beautiful Benzie
Being a national campground, the rules are strict and strictly enforced. How many times I heard “stay off the vegetation!” from a park ranger as a kid I can’t count. And if they’re worried about your footprint disturbing the vegetation, you can bet your butt they don’t tolerate off-leash dogs.
I also know the sites are set up to be reasonably private, and that if you really know the park, you can usually get yourself into a site with better-than-reasonable privacy.
On top of that, I’ve wanted my whole life to show Sensi Lake Michigan. It means so much to me, and for as much as he loves water, I knew it would blow him away.
So it was time. After a summer full of fear-reduction exercises — exposing him to large crowds at parks, even walking past air balloons being launched — it was time to stop using his behavior problems as an excuse and get him up north again.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Back to blogging! Camping series, contests coming up

I do realize it's been a while ... in fact, I'm not sure "a while" really covers how long it's been. But let's not go into details.
I've been working on a series about our camping trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore earlier this fall. It's a bit novelish, but I broke each post down into behavior-related mini-stories.
The first in the series will publish tomorrow morning.
After that, I'm going to start hosting a lot of contests, so bone up on canine behavior knowledge if you want to win a bunch of neat stuff. I've got everything from awesome travel gear for your pooch, a funny t-shirt, calendars, books and more.
It's all been amassing under my desk and if I don't start dishing this stuff out soon, there's going to be nowhere left for my feet.
So, I'm back, for real this time, and I've got lots of good stuff coming your way.
Check back tomorrow morning for the kick-off of the camping-with-a-behaviorally-challenged-dog series!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Live chat today!

Hang out with me in a live chat today, talking dogs and cats with myself and the author of our "Cat Chat" blog, Caren Gittleman.

Friday, September 30, 2011

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Sensi at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I have to keep this short and sweet, but here's the gist:
We went on vacation. We finally brought the dog to Lake Michigan — it was his first time ever camping in a campground, and first time ever seeing a body of water as large and ominous as Lake Michigan.
You can see his cautious approach in the photos.
I have fodder for enough posts to last me the rest of the year from our trip! Let's hope I find more time to write soon :-)
In the meantime, enjoy the photos!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Where have I been?

Just wanted to touch base and let everyone know that yes, I'm OK and I'm still blogging.
It's been a busy few weeks for me and I just haven't been able to post. My apologies. I miss it.
Most embarrassing is that my hiatus came in the middle of a four-part series which I have not yet finished. I kept thinking I'd find the time one night at home, but that clearly hasn't happened.

So here's a brief update:

1) Yes, I am going to finish the four-part series I started on four simple things to teach your dog to make life easier. I've got two posts to go and pledge to work on it as soon as I can. If nothing else, I have a vacation coming up and no vacation is complete for a writer without finding some time to write.

2) Speaking of this vacation, we are once again going camping. Last year, I joked about how Sensi would've hated the campground. A big part of this is the cage, which we made the poor choice of using as punishment for Sensi when we were young and dumb. However, the cage must be used in order to make this trip work. We have a pop-up camper and it's simply not safe to leave Sensi in there alone. One push on the canvas and he's out, so the cage is coming with us. For the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to undo all his phobias of the cage. Progress is slow but surprisingly better than I had expected. He still gets anxious when the door closes, but not if it's while he's eating. Most shocking, he has gone in there three times of his own accord to lay down. That is pretty impressive.

To rehab the cage fear, I started with:
1) Putting a nice comfy bed, his favorite blankets and even a body pillow as a bolster, in the cage
2) Every feeding is done in the cage
3) We play a fetch-tug combo game using the cage — I throw the rope in the cage, he retrieves it and we play tug for about 30 seconds and start over.
4) Every time he goes into the cage of his own accord, he gets a treat
5) Every time he goes into the cage of his own accord and lays down, he gets a better-than-average treat
6) We practice extended down-stays in the cage using food puzzles, like stuffing the Kong with lots of goodies that will take him some time to work out

I need up the ante on the closed-door part, but we're getting there. We are getting there. Wish me luck, though — it never hurts to have a luck on your side, right? 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Four simple tips to improve your dog's behavior — #2 The Sit-Stay

When training a dog, everyone thinks of 'tricks' first — you know, sit, shake, speak.
But how much do those tricks really help you or your dog to live a better life together? They don't, really.
Instead of focusing on cutesy tricks, try working on these four things. I'll share one tip each day and give training instructions.
Yesterday's tip: Sit
Today's tip:

Sit-stay — it's all about teaching patience
You've done the work on sit. Don't stop there.
Teaching your dog a sit-stay is definitely one of the most valuable skills you can teach your dog. This is because a sit-stay teaches patience, and patience is a skill that pay dividends over the lifetime of your dog.
For example, you need to trim your dog's nails, but he has no idea that in life, he is expected to remain still for any period of time for anything. Makes nail trims pretty difficult, huh? If you'd had a sit-stay in place, you could use that command to help get your good-behavior-for-nail-trims routine in place.
Or, how about keeping a begging dog away from the kitchen table, or keeping your dog from crowding guests when they first walk in the door?
If yesterday's 'sit' training is the ultimate building block command, sit-stay is the next layer of blocks you need to lay down.
You've built sit, then you build sit-stay on top of it. Sit-stay is a versatile command because it is effectively all about teaching a dog patience. It's a command you'll be able to use to better your dog's behavior in a variety of situations that you won't even be able to envision until the time pops up, and when it does, you'll be glad you're able to express to your dog that he needs to stay still.

Teaching a sit-stay
1) Give dog sit command
2) Develop a hand signal, most people use the open-palm that most humans recognize as a 'stop' signal. Use the hand signal in conjunction with the word 'stay.'
3) Take a step back with one foot (so one foot remains unmoved, meaning the position of your body isn't moving backward. Just the one foot is). Once the heel of your moving foot touches the ground, immediately bring it back forward to its original position.
4) If the dog has not moved, immediately dispense treat upon your foot landing back in the same position.

You may need to do this a couple times. If your dog is staying during your one-foot-movement, then add your other foot into the equation — now you're taking one full step backward with both feet. Immediately go back to your original position. If the dog has not moved, dispense treat upon both feet being back to their original position.

Gradually build the number of steps you take backward. If the dog breaks his sit-stay at any time, put him back into a sit and go through the routine again, but with fewer backward steps.

If the dog cannot stay still for even your beginning one-foot-step, then take no steps at all. Simply give the hand signal and stay command, wait a second, dispense treat. Do this again, wait two seconds, dispense treat. Do this again, wait three seconds, dispense treat.

The important thing is to remember, if it's not working, decrease the challenge.

At some point, the dog will catch on that his task is simply to remain put until you return with a treat. Then you can begin moving far away, down the hallway, out of your dog's sight, etc. while keeping him in a sit-stay.

Next, practice the sit-stay outside and wherever you can to ensure the dog understands that regardless of where he is or what other people or dogs may be around, the sit-stay game still reaps rewards for him (treats).

Common mistake — making sit-stay into sit-stay-come
I've seen lots of dog owners start 'stay' training by putting the dog in a sit-stay, moving away and then asking the dog to come to you. This is an advanced sit-stay that incorporates a recall command. Many people mistakenly start with this method, but this should be an exercise done after a solid sit-stay has been trained. Remember, to begin, move away from your dog, then move back to your dog. This makes it clear to the dog that the game is not about staying until called, but simply staying. Feel free to move on to the sit-stay-come after you've built a strong sit-stay in the first place, and then switch up between the two. This keeps the dog on his toes, listening intently for your command to see whether he stays put, or comes when called.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Four simple tips to improve your dog's behavior — #1 Sit

Almost everyone teaches their dog to sit. That's great. It is the ultimate building block.
Many people almost intuitively know how to teach a sit.
But just as many people don't, and even those who do know may not understand why it is that what they're doing works.

How sit improves a dog behavior
As I said earlier, sit is the ultimate building block command.
Sit lays the groundwork for a sit-stay, and a sit-stay (tomorrow's tip) will come in handy in a variety of situations. Sit-stay also helps the dog learn patience, which is a valuable skill that transcends into almost all aspects of behavior.

How to teach a sit
This is an age-old method. People use it even when they don't know why it works. Teach it while your dog is a puppy and it is almost always a breeze for the puppy to pick up on.
I have met one adult shelter dog in my life who this doesn't work for. My guess is that somebody unknowingly used this method to teach a different behavior and now the dog doesn't associate it with sit.

OK, here it is:
1) Cup treat in hand. Put hand close to dog's nose. Wait until you are sure dog knows a treat is in your hand. You might want to make the treat partially visible.
2) Move your hand backward over the dog's nose and backwards so you wind up over the dog's eyes. What you're going for here is having the dog follow your hand with its eyes. You should find that, when your hand moves back-and-over the head to the point that the dog is having a hard time seeing it, he will automatically sit his butt down so that he can remain in view of the treat. This is the 'why' of why this old training method works like a charm — it's all about positioning the treat so the dog feels he has to sit to remain in view of it.
3) Give reward as soon as butt touches ground.

Keep doing this, saying 'Sit' while putting your treat hand over the dog's head.

Most dogs pick up on this one really quickly. Remember to keep using the hand signal until it seems like second nature, then, you can begin taking the hand signal out of the equation. If the dog does not respond to the verbal command, bring back out the hand command.

It is important that the hand and verbal commands are simultaneous — so, your hand moves back at the exact moment you say 'Sit.'

The dog will learn, over time, to associate the hand command with the verbal command. This will make it easier to start dropping the hand command all together.

Personally, though, I like the hand commands. Dogs almost always learn physical cues before verbal cues. My dog is eight and a half years old now. I can give him almost all his commands silently — with physical cues only — as well as entirely verbally (not giving any physical cues).

If you're looking for something to impress guests with, that'll do it. People think the dog and I share brainwaves or something, but that's not it at all. Just physical cues vs. verbal cues ...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bulldog cuddles up on pile of ice in hot weather

Some people hate email forwards, some people thoroughly enjoy them. Count me in as part of the "thoroughly enjoy" crowd.
This adorable photo was forwarded to me with the following caption:
"This is Elliot, a British (English?) Bulldog, and this is an un-posed picture (trust me, you couldn't actually make Elliot do anything) of said pooch trying to beat the Texas heat after his owners emptied their cooler in the driveway in Sachse, Texas."

Is that darling or what?
So, a couple things to note from this photo and caption ...

Keeping your dog cool in hot weather
While not every dog will be willing to lie down in a pile of ice, this picture makes a whole lot of good doggie sense.
I've written before that cooling a dog's paws and belly can have the biggest impact on cooling down your dog overall.
Aside from panting, dogs can regulate their overall body temperature through their paws and belly. Have you ever seen a dog dig down underneath a tree or bush on a hot summer day? He's digging to reach cooler earth, and simply lying down on top of a cooler surface will do wonders to help cool down the whole body.
When my dog gets really hot, I'll dip his paws in ice water or drape cold rags over his paws and belly. It works like a charm.

Read more about how to help your dog out in the hot weather by checking out these posts and articles: 
The caption is true: Bulldogs are notoriously stubborn
I thought it was cute that the email noted "Trust me, you couldn't actually make Elliot do anything."
I'm sure Bulldog owners would find no surprise in this.
English Bulldogs are often referred to as stubborn and difficult to train.
Personally, I've never worked with one before, but I don't doubt the rumors.
I'd argue, however, that as with training any dog, success comes in knowing what motivates your dog. If the dog is not motivated by treats or toys, training will be a challenge.
With Bulldogs, I'd guess that reading the dog's mood from one moment to the next is also imperative to successful training. Many Bulldogs are quite content with whatever they've got going on — say, chillin' on the sofa or stretched out on soft sod — and if the dog appears to be really enjoying his chill time, you're probably not going to have a whole lot of success starting a training session.

Wait until your dog is acting playful to engage in training, and most importantly, remember to shape behaviors by rewarding off the cuff for any behaviors you do like.
No dog is impossible to train, some are just more challenging than others. There's nothing wrong with that!

One last note: let's remember that dogs with smooshed-up faces (Bulldogs, Boxers, Pugs, etc.) have a difficult time breathing, period. Heat and humidity make it that much more difficult for them, so please remember to keep your smooshed-face dogs cool!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Big dog, small dog, shaggy dog and blue-eyed beauty

My friend Allison and I have been volunteering at K-9 Stray Rescue League in Oxford Township on Friday afternoons this summer.
Interacting with so many dogs, and seeing so many dogs interact with one another, has been a dream for me.
I can't make it this weekend — my sister and I are taking her two little boys on a camping trip — but during the past few Fridays, I've made quite a few dog friends at K-9.
Here are some of the dogs I've walked and befriended: (scroll to bottom to view video)

Big dog: Duchess
See Duchess' Adoption Profile
Duchess appears to be a purebred Rottweiler, about 6-years-old. She looooooves humans.
During our walk, she wasn't really that interested in walking. It was pretty hot. She went directly for every shady spot in our route and promptly plopped herself down. Soon after, you could bet she was on her back begging for a belly rub.
She was very affectionate with me and very much the alert watchdog you expect Rottweilers to be. You can see, in the video, as her eyes flick toward any sound or movement to make sure she's keeping abreast of all things taking place around her. She wasn't necessarily reacting to any of that stimuli — like, cars going by or leaves rustling on the trees — but she was aware of every last bit of it.
In the kennel, she can be dog aggressive. A note on her adoption profile said she has done well with other dogs in a foster environment, but careful introductions are necessary.
Duchess is an absolutely beautiful Rottweiler who would do best being an only dog. She is super affectionate and sweet and really needs a home where someone can lavish upon her lots of affection and creature comforts.

Blue-eyed beauty: Ice 
Ice is a very unusual looking dog, between 2-3 years old and weighing in at about 60 pounds.
She has clear blue beautiful eyes, but is not blind.
K-9 volunteers have her listed as a Catahoula Leopard Dog mix.
See Ice's Adoption Profile
She reminds me a bit of my own dog because, like Sensi, she has a deep, broad chest leading back to a tiny little hiny. Cuteness.
Her adoption profile says she can be a little dominant when first meeting other dogs. I'm not sure about this, at least when it comes to males. I saw her play with an adult male dog last Friday and, upon first meeting, she was very submissive and appeasing to him. They made fast friends.
With female dogs, it could be a different story. Unfortunately, I can't say I know.
She is not good with cats, though.
Ice is recovering from a nasty gash on her back. She had her stitches out last Friday, July 29, and is doing quite well.

Shaggy dog: Kane
See Kane's Adoption Profile
Kane is an adorably shaggy medium-sized terrier full of spunk. He is energetic and true to his terrier self in terms of playfulness.
If you're looking for a dog who will never grow old — at least, not in terms of behavior — this is the guy. Terriers tend to be playful dogs for life, no matter their age, and I bet Kane will continue being laughably playful well into his senior citizen years (he is a young dog now, but not sure of his exact age).
He literally bounces around, his little body scrunching up with every big bouncy step he takes.
He's a small dog, about 35 pounds, so his tendency to pull a bit didn't wear on my arm. He's a featherweight on the other end of the leash.
They say he's mouthy and would be better suited for a family with older kids because of it.
I say that because he's a terrier, he's bound to be a quick learner. Use a mix of toys and treats to reinforce good behaviors, ignore the bad ones and don't give him opportunities to mess up, and in no time, you'll have yourself a wonderfully jovial and fun-loving companion.

Small dog: Shelly
Shelly's dream home is with people who can spend a lot of time with her and give her lots of affection.
See Shelly's Adoption Profile
She is between 1-2 years old, 30 pounds and could be a mix of shepherd, terrier or even beagle — she kind of has the shape and size of a beagle, but the coat of a shepherd.
Shelly recently had a litter, but will be or has been fixed since arriving at K-9.
You can hear her whine a bit in the video. She has some anxiety and I'm quite sure it's attachment anxiety — she wants to be with you. I noted absolutely no fear issues, so it's not that. In fact, she seems like a very affable, outgoing little girl. She is affectionate and a home where people have lots of time to spend with her will make her a very happy little dog.
Oh yeah, one last thing: She's a frog-dogger (see how she's laying? She's in motion, splaying her legs out directly behind her. That's a sign of a dog that is free of hip problems, good thing to note!)

Watch video of Duchess, Ice, Kane and Shelly

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cool new fundraising event this weekend: Animal House Party

There's a cool new fundraising event for the Michigan Humane Society taking place this Saturday, August 6, at The Whitney in Detroit.
It's being called the "Animal House Party" and is geared toward young professionals.
"The goal of AHP is to raise awareness beyond the usual animal-focused crowd and have a little fun along the way," said Hubert Sawyers III, who helped organize the event with Eliza Sawyers.
The event is for those ages 21 and older. DJ Kim Sorise of WDET will open for DJ Graffiti from Ann Arbor.
Tickets are $40 and include drinks, appetizers and valet parking. The event is from 8 p.m. to midnight and will be on the Garden Patio at the Whitney.
Tickets must be purchased in advance by going to

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bathing your dog: It doesn't have to be such an ordeal

Sensi and I prepare for his bath
Long time readers of this blog are well aware of my dog's allergy issues.
This is pertinent because an allergic dog needs lots of medicated baths.
At one point in Sensi's life, we were bathing him twice a week per veterinarian instructions.
We don't have to do it so often anymore, but it is important this time of the year to make sure he stays clean.
In addition to food allergies, Sensi also has some seasonal allergies.
Mold, pollen and all those outdoor allergens build up on Sensi's skin. You could literally see how much better my dog felt after his bath Sunday, even if he hated the bath all the same.
Anyhow, all this bathing we've done over his lifetime has made us old pros at the bathing routine.

Bathing tips: Part I — Make getting into the bath more comfortable!
At one point, Sensi started refusing to get into the bathtub. This is when I draped a towel over the ledge and voila! He was back in.
Nowadays, there's no picking him up and lifting him in, no pulling or prodding of any kind. Just a simple "Get in the tub, Sensi" and he does.
Don't believe me? Well, that's why I taped it.

Bathing tips: Part II — Areas to clean well, areas to avoid all together
Do you squirt water in your ears to get them clean? Didn't think so, so don't do it to your dog.
The face is another big no-no for us. I learned long ago that if you leave the dog's face alone, he's much less inclined to shake the water off before the appropriate time.
Toes, armpits and the butt, on the other hand? Just watch the video ...

Bathing tips: Part III — Shake on command and roll dry
You can hear my friend Allison, the one behind the camera, start cracking up after I shut off the water, pull the curtain closed and tell Sensi to shake.
Sounds unbelievable, I know. But it's not. It's all just part of the bathing routine we've worked on for more than 8 years now.
Then, watch as my big black dog dries himself off. He uses more towels than I do, but I suppose he has more hair than I do too ...

Monday, August 1, 2011

When is it too hot to take your dog with you?

Try Orion Oaks Dog Park on a hot day. It has a lake!
Reader Alayne Hansen emailed me this morning about an experience she had this weekend that angered and concerned her.
She wrote that, while attending an outdoor event this weekend — you know, one of those events hosted entirely on concrete, like so many fairs and festivals this time of year — she was "horrified to see pet owners walking their dogs on the blazing cement and nearly unbearable heat."
In particular, she told me about a long-haired dog struggling to walk, stumbling around and, I'm sure, alternately lifting his paws up.
Hansen told the dog's owner that it was unsafe to continue on with the dog in the extreme temperatures and scorching cement. He didn't care. Neither did the police.
So folks, let's talk about how to gauge when it is too hot out for your dog.

What is the surface of the ground and how hot is it? 
Taking your dog for a walk in the woods during yesterday's 90 degree temperatures would've been pretty safe. The Earth, especially dirt packed trails, stays much cooler than man-made surfaces, and the shade helps too.
Still, the extreme heat begs for extra caution — so perhaps you shorten that walk, come prepared with portable water dishes, etc.
If your walk or outing is planned for concrete or asphalt surfaces, though, it can be quite dangerous for your dog.
The easiest thing to do is to put the palm of your hand on the ground and hold it there for at least 30 seconds.
If you can't do that because it's too hot, then it's too hot for your dog to be walking on it.
Remember that paws are a primary temperature regulating tool for dogs, and their bellies aren't too far behind.
This means that while a dog might be able to handle the hot temperatures if, say, he was hanging out on the grass in the backyard or joining you for a walk down a wooded trail, the concrete/asphalt surface can increase the effects of the heat on your dog substantially, to the point that it is not safe for him to be outside.

Signs that your dog is struggling with the heat
Uncontrollable panting, bright red gums and an air of disorientation are signs that your dog may be only moments away from heat stroke, which can be deadly.
Also, if a dog is alternately lifting paws, you have a serious problem as well. This applies in both winter and summer.
Essentially, the dog is lifting it's paws because the ground is either burning them or freezing them.
Hot asphalt can burn paw pads.

What to do if your dog looks too hot
Get the dog cool as quick as possible. If you don't see a near-immediate improvement, rush to the emergency clinic.
Move your dog to an air conditioned environment or put a fan on him.
Dip his paws in cold water or put cold rags on the bottom of his paws, the top of his head and his belly.
Water, water, water.
Ice cubes are another idea. My dog thinks they're treats. On hot days, I put a whole tray of ice cubes in his water to help keep it cool too.
Read this story for more detailed information about preventing against heat stroke and the dangers associated with it, Veterinarians warn that with high temps, heat stroke can be fatal for dogs

The lesson
There's lots of great outdoor events taking place right now, as it is summer in Michigan.
When it is this hot outside, though, take a moment to evaluate whether it's really going to be a good environment for your dog.
If it's 90 degrees with blazing sun and sticky humidity and the event is on concrete or asphalt, please leave your dog at home.
And if you forgot to think about it, when you look down at your dog and he's panting and looking all together hot and uncomfortable, put your hand down to test the ground.
If it's too hot for your hand, it's too hot for your dog.
Whatever you do, just don't stick your dog in the car while you finish up at the event. Hot cars kill dogs, and it happens incredibly fast.

Friday, July 29, 2011

How to stop a dog from digging

So you have a digging dog and you're wondering how to get him (or her) to stop.
Well, I'm of the mindset that you don't — and shouldn't — stop him.
"That's ridiculous," you're all saying right about now. "I can't have him digging up my garden beds every time I let him outside."
I agree that he shouldn't be digging up your garden beds, or digging anywhere you don't want him to. But stopping the digging all together is, in most cases, just not going to work. Not 100 percent.
Fortunately, there's a way to manage to this behavior that will keep your yard and gardens free of holes, and make your a dog a happy little digger in the process too.

Why do dogs dig?
Digging is something we developed many breeds of dogs to do. Terriers are the most notorious diggers. They have been born and bred for centuries to dig up varmint. That urge to dig remains present among many of our dogs, terriers and mutts and all dogs alike. For many, digging becomes an enjoyable, rewarding and sought-after activity. Add in that inherent urge and that's why it can be so darn difficult to get a dog to stop digging.

The tank theory
This idea comes from my favorite author, Jean Donaldson, in her book Culture Clash. I don't have it word for word, but here's the general idea, anyhow: 
Essentially, she says to think of a dog as a machine with a bunch of tanks full of gas. Let's say that one tank is marked "chewing," another is "chasing," another might be "tug of war" and perhaps yet another is "digging."
Each day, these tanks need to be drained. If not, when a new day begins and more gas gets poured into the tanks — as happens every day, regardless — there is no where for that gas to go. It overflows.
So, the tanks represent doggie behaviors that the dog is instinctively inclined to perform everyday.
When a dog engages in those behaviors, the tank is drained. The dog's need for that area is met for that day.
When a dog does not get his tanks drained, the resulting overflow equals behavior problems. He's bursting at the seams, right?
That is where all kinds of behavior problems can develop. Maybe the dog develops a neurotic fixation for something like chasing his tail to try to expend some of that energy and drain his tank.
Maybe he claws at the door handle until it pops open so he can go outside and run.
Or maybe he chews incessantly at his paws until his hair starts falling out because he's bored.
And if he's a determined digger, perhaps he learns to dig at your carpet corners or couch or comforter or just waits until you look away for a moment to dig up your garden.
It's hard to say what the dog's brain will come up with when its hard-wired needs are not being met. The possibilities are endless.

Drain that tank!
For the reason listed above, I do not buy into the theory that we should stop our dogs from engaging in behaviors they are hard-wired to do simply because it inconveniences us.
Instead, you teach the dog to funnel that behavior into something that does not inconvenience you.
I'm all about turning unwanted behaviors into wanted behaviors, regardless of whether it's a hard-wired behavior or just any ol' behavior you don't like.
For instance, Sensi used to bark and bark and bark at pool sticks, and try to grab them, whenever a person made a shot on the pool table. The sound of pool balls hitting each other just sent him into a tizzy.
He was not responding to "no."
My solution? Train him to play pool. Suddenly, it went from "no one wants to play pool when Sensi's around" to "people are coming over because they want to play pool with Sensi."

The digging solution
Digging is one of the easiest problems to start managing.
Step one: Get a sandbox, fill with sand
Step two: Bury a toy in it
Step three: Encourage your dog to dig up the toy, praise him for doing so
Step four: Verbally reprimand the dog ("No! Bad dog!") whenever you see him digging somewhere that is the not sandbox, then immediately lead the dog to the sandbox and encourage him to continue his digging there.
Optional Step five: Reward digs in the right place. Some dogs might need a little treat to solidify for them that digging in the sandbox is the right place to dig. For other dogs, the digging alone may be reward enough.  
This is essentially the same training method as used with chew-training. Even people who don't know a whole lot about dogs seem to have heard about the "When your puppy chews something of yours, take it out of his mouth and insert or encourage him to chew on a dog toy instead."
Same thing, different behavior.
The biggest reward, of course, is that a tank is being drained every time the dog gets to dig in his sandbox. Every tank drained is a behavior problem averted, so drain those tanks!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thundershirt, herbal remedies to help calm your dog during storms, other anxious times

I awoke at 5 a.m. this morning to the feeling I was being restrained, or that at least my legs were.
Then I heard the rain and thunder. A strike of lightning lit up the woods outside the bedroom window.
Groggy as I may have been, I knew what was happening to me.
I was being spooned by the dog — his heavy head and big front paws squarely over my calves — who was seeking some reassurance that this storm wasn't going to barrel through the window and get him.
The storm was in full swing when we got up this morning — the claps of thunder loud enough to even make me jump, and I love storms.
Sensi stuck to us like glue this morning, even laying down on the rug outside the shower while we cleaned up.
Once we shut the windows (we leave them open when it rains because we have 6-foot overhangs and enjoy the sound of the rain) and gave him his Buster Cube, though, he was over it.
I'm lucky that, for all Sensi's intense fears, storms aren't one of them.
In his old age now, he jumps a little at a loud clap of thunder and likes to be near us when it's particularly nasty outside. But there's no panting, no drooling, no shaking, no hiding or whining or even tail tucking. Pretty lucky, I know.
Lots of folks have dogs who may not have any other fear issues, but go absolutely bonkers when a storm rolls in.
If you are one of those folks — or if you're trying to mitigate other situations that create anxiety and fear for your dog — here are a couple suggestions from a reader that might help you out.
"First is the thundershirt," wrote Jessica Meier, who has trained dogs for obedience competitions for more than 20 years. "This really helped my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. He has since passed away, however, he enjoyed wearing his shirt!"
I love the Thundershirt idea. Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation, talks about the impact a good squeeze and embrace can have on settling both animals and autistic people. Read more about that in my blog post, Storms on their way, how will your dog react?
"On my Toller Annie, his granddaughter, I use Animal Essentials Tranquility blend," Meier continued. "It is an herbal tonic. It works like a charm."
I have heard a lot of good things about herbal calming solutions for dogs.
So, if your dog has anxiety issues, those are couple things to think about.
I'd love to hear your dog-thunderstorm stories! How does your dog react in a thunderstorm?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Rant: Things that make me mad

Sorry I was absent last week — things get busy. No worries though, because I'm back and I'm in heck of a mood today.

Rant 1: What are you thinking???
I know of a little dog who likes to chase after cars. Incredibly, his owners do not seem bothered by this. The little dog is never restrained to his yard. On more than one occasion, I've seen him nearly get hit by another vehicle or had to slam on my brakes — to the point of fishtailing and leaving skid marks — to avoid hitting him myself.
In recent weeks, I've also seen him going through garbage left by the curb — two times, to be clear. Same neighbor's garbage.
And so, in reference to the dog's owners, "What the heck are you thinking???"
Maybe they don't really like the dog.

Rant 2: Ignorant defense of pit bulls
Okay folks, you're getting on my nerves. If I hear, "But pit bulls are the sweetest, most loving, gentle dogs in the whole world" one more time I am going to scream.
I am, first and foremost, a huge pit bull supporter. I own one myself, I love him, I love the breed.
But I am not ignorant and I'm getting sick of hearing these "sweetisms" uttered by people who are.
Not every pit bull in the whole world is the sweetest, most loving, most gentle dog ever. And you know what folks, how you raise a dog is a large part of the equation, but it is not the whole equation.
So add "It's all in how you raise them" to things that could potentially lead to me screaming.
A lot of it is how you raise a dog. How you raise a dog can trump genetic predispositions.
But let's not go around espousing this theory that pit bulls are the greatest, sweetest dog in the world and any old person can own one and as long as he/she loves the pit bull, the pit bull will be the greatest, sweetest dog in the world.
There's more to dog ownership than love.
And no, I don't happen to believe that every person out there makes a good pit bull owner.
The stakes are higher. You need to not just be more responsible than the average dog owner, but you need to have a lot more good knowledge than the average dog owner.
So let's stop playing this game and be honest.
Pit bulls can be great dogs when they have a great owner. Some of them can be great dogs even when they have a bad owner. But some of them can be bad dogs when they have a just mediocre owner, and I think we see a lot of that in our society.
Probably because someone told a person with a big heart that pit bulls are just misunderstood sweethearts that make the greatest pets in the whole wide world, and that person brought a pit bull home thinking it'd be just like raising any other dog — just love it and it will be great; don't worry about training, don't worry about socialization, just love it.
The thing is, everyone should know that every dog needs more than just love. But with pit bulls, if that's all you're doing, you run the risk of allowing dangerous behaviors to develop.
And so especially with pit bulls, you need to be a better-than-average dog owner.

Rant 3: Doggie dental care
Doggie dental care is important. Yes, I support dental cleanings. I would never discourage anyone from taking care of their dog's teeth.
But here's the thing — a dental cleaning can be a pretty penny because of the anesthesia involved.
And for the last year or so, I've been inundated with requests from all types of groups to write more about doggie dental care, and plug this person/group/product when I do. And when I say inundated, I mean inundated. You would cringe at my inbox.
For every request I get, I can't help but think of the financial motivation behind it. Especially since I've watched the market grow — going from "hardly ever do you get a request" to "Oh my goodness, everybody and their brother has something to say/sell/offer/advertise with relation to pet dental health."
It's becoming overwhelming.
For the record, take good care of your dog's teeth. Brush them regularly with doggie toothpaste. If you can, get a professional cleaning performed by a veterinarian. The impact is far reaching.
But, be a skeptical consumer. The market is on overload now with dental products. Do your research and choose wisely.
In my house, the most important dental care products for my dog have always been the simplest: 1) Dog toothbrush, 2) Dog toothpaste.
And yes, we would like to get Sensi's teeth professionally cleaned. I recommend checking into that as well. Talk to your veterinarian about it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lessons from a shelter dog: Patience is key to improving dog behavior

Last Friday marked the third week my friend Allison and I have volunteered walking dogs at our local dog rescue, K-9 Stray Rescue League in Oxford Township.
It's hard to believe this Friday will be a month.
Walking rescue dogs is no easy task. There's a lot of pent up energy to go around.
Two weeks ago, I had what I call a "swimmer and spinner."
This young beagle/lab mix had all fours spread out as far to the side as possible as soon as I clipped the leash on him and brought him out of his pen. It looked like he was trying to swim on concrete — hence the "swimmer" part of my nickname.
What that actually achieves for the dog is a lower center of gravity (his belly and chest only a couple inches off the ground once he started 'swimming') and that means more strength to pull against the leash.
When we finally got out of the yard, he began 'spinning.'
He would leap forward against the leash and, with me standing still behind him, would rear up on his hind legs like a horse when he reached the end and spin around.
Then he started doing circles around me, spinning once or twice along the way and pulling like a freight train.
I wasn't sure I could actually hang on to the leash while he was behaving that way, and I also did not want to give that behavior my stamp of approval.
So I stood there, and stood there and stood there. The dog flat-out wore himself out spinning in circles around me.
We only moved forward when he stopped.
Miraculously, we were walking like a regular ol' human-dog pair in no time.
"I can't believe this worked out," I said to Allison, walking a different dog beside me. "I really wasn't sure he'd settle down."
And let that be a lesson to all of you, and especially those of you adopting a dog from a shelter — patience can have the biggest impact on behavior at times.
Sometimes, you just have to let a dog completely exhaust a behavior (and in my case, wear himself out in the process) before the dog realizes the behavior is not working as a means to the end he desires and gives up on it.

Vince, Shepherd mix
Big beautiful shepherd mix for adoption
Meet Vince, an approximately 3-year-old Shepherd mix.
I met Vince last Friday. He was the first dog I took out.
Vince is a very big boy. His adoption profile says he is about 90 pounds, but he may have packed on a few more since that posting. Vince is big.
Of course, that's what caught my attention — the big dog lover I am.
Like the dog above, Vince needed to work out some energy when we first got going on our walk. He did not swim nor spin, however. Instead, he bounced like a boxer.
Based on his bounciness, my money is on boxer definitely being a part of his mix, even though it doesn't look like it. As I state in the video, I wouldn't put past there being a bit of some sort of mastiff in Vince's make up too.
Vince's adoption profile says he is slightly insecure. This could be true, though I'm not sure it's a very serious problem.
Vince, see adoption profile
He did climb up on a big semi truck when a driver from a nearby business slowed down to offer the dogs some treats. He did not, however, take the treat. He did take the treat, and sat nicely for it, just a second later from my own hand.
Comparing him to the fear my dog has shows that his insecurities are minimal at best. My dog would have never even gotten close to the semi truck, nonetheless put two paws up on the steps to the cab. My dog also will not take treats from a stranger, and really, I was a stranger to Vince. Yet he took a treat from me.
So, a little insecure? Sure (because he wouldn't take the treat from the driver) but not to any sort of extreme. I had some concerns that his social skills around other dogs weren't fabulous either, but paired with the right dog, he could make a great playmate.
Vince's moment to shine was when we started jogging down the road. He fell right into step next to me and zoned in on the forward movement, not pulling, not getting distracted, just trotting merrily beside me.
Vince is an incredibly handsome boy with great potential.
If you've got the right home for him, learn more by going to Vince's adoption profile.

Watch a video of Vince!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Training your hunting dog

The orange flowers are Butterfly Weed!
Training a dog to hunt has always been one of those mystery areas for me, and in part because of that, it's also something I find intrinsically interesting.
While working on the feral hog story, I got in touch with Mike Schippa. He's president of Michigan's chapter of the Versatile Hunting Dog Federation.
The federation is a group of people who train dogs to do a variety of hunting-related tasks.
Often, we think of Labradors as waterfowl specific hunters, pointers for field work, beagles for rabbits, etc. But Schippa said lots of dogs can excel and quickly switch between many different types of hunting.
The group is also part of a wider association of hunting dog groups that are taking part in a stewardship program that allows them use of the Highland State Recreation Area in exchange for volunteer work to improve the park.
It's a neat partnership. As the daughter of an avid hunter, I take a lot of pride in our state's hunters who care deeply about conservation and the environment. This is another example of group of folks doing just that — and providing their dogs with jobs to boot. These are the things that make me feel all warm and fuzzy.
That's Mike Schippa in the foreground
Check out the story I wrote: Michigan hunting dog group trains at State Park in Highland.
Also, did you notice those beautiful orange wildflowers in the photo and video? That's called Butterfly Weed. It's a flower I first photographed in the property behind the house my husband used to rent. I fell in love them then and have been overjoyed to catch sightings of them along the roadside or in parks here and there. They're in bloom right now.
Oh yeah, I also picked up two during a recent visit to American Roots native plant nursery in Brandon Township. I'm naming one Pride and the other Joy.
Sorry ... I've drifted away from my usual dog-centered musings ...

Video of the Michigan Versatile Hunting Dog Federation at work

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Getting a dog to behave around fireworks: treat therapy

It's year three of using treat therapy to combat my dog's extreme anxiety about fireworks and this year, we've had a major break through.

The bad behavior
Fireworks go off. My dog leaps from where ever he may be, barking, hair raised and bee lining it toward the nearest door or window. Barking only increases. He goes from one window to the next, checking every opening in the house, barking and barking and barking. He does not pay attention to anyone or anything. Anxiety does not diminish, but only increases in intensity. It's awful.

The past two years
We live across the street from a lake. Lake people love fireworks. The first year, Sensi damaged a window beyond repair. We had to do something about his anxiety. I started using treat therapy — year one, not a whole lot of progress. Year two, showed good progress — it was easier to calm him down, he began anticipating treats. But progress is a relative term.

This weekend
With four people around to help distract and dispense treats, we made great progress. Fireworks started going off Saturday at dusk and continued for a couple hours. As quickly as possible after every firework, we called Sensi, asked him to sit and gave him a treat. By the end of the night, even if he ran to the door or window to bark, he would stop himself just prior to barking and instead turn around to look for a treat. This means the association is finally gaining strength — he is actually connecting, in his head, that those big booms can equal treats and all he has to do is find a person and sit before them. The downside? Boy is it ever a lot of work. The night is basically dedicated to treat therapy. That's why having a couple friends around to help pitch in as treat dispensers really helped. I don't think we could've made such good work on the boom-treat association if we didn't have the help.

A better idea
When fireworks go off outside, we have no idea that it's about to happen. We aren't watching the people setting them off and we have no way to anticipate the exact moment a firework will go off.
This means we can't have perfect timing.
Timing is everything with training and behavior modification, and if your timing isn't perfect, your training won't be easy.
With something like fireworks, you want the dog to be eating the treat as the firework is going off — not a second later after the dog has taken off to bark out the window.
My plan to fix this is to create a DVD of a fireworks show I filmed over the weekend. It's really all the same to him, anyhow. He barks just as much for that pesky furniture store commercial that has fireworks in it as he does for the fireworks outside.
With the DVD, we'll be able to work on this more than just a couple weeks out of the year and we'll really be able to nail our timing and get the message across to Sensi with a whole lot less wear and tear on the both of us.

Watching his coping mechanisms change
One of the most interesting parts of this whole behavior mod process is seeing the change in how he copes with the anxiety brought on by fireworks.
He previously went right into a threat display, which would continue relentlessly. In the worst of times, he became destructive — as in the case of the scratched-beyond-repair window.
Last year we saw that threat display decrease substantially. He only used it for the really loud booms. I saw him actively engage in treat therapy — during a long session of fireworks, he had nose buried in the food I was shoveling toward him. As soon as the helpings ran out, he wasn't running away to refocus on the fireworks as you'd think would happen. Nope, he was nosing the food bowl with the intensity of a crack addict on a crime spree. I could see willingness on his behalf to learn a different way to cope with fireworks.
This year, he's gotten so much better that he no longer wants to run to the doors/windows at all — he wants to stay lying down by us to get his treats — but lying down conflicts with the anxiety he feels for the fireworks. When a loud boom goes off, he gets his treat and then has to cope with the "I want to get up, but I know it doesn't yield the best reward" scenario. So he whines like he's in pain until the next firework pops off.

We still have a long ways to go. He is still under a lot of anxiety about the fireworks, even if treat therapy has done wonders to modify his behavior.

It's one of those situations where changing the behavior comes much more easily than changing the underlying emotional state, which he is clearly still struggling with.

I'll take some video of us doing the fireworks DVD training. In the meantime, wish us luck!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Has your dog ever caught a critter?

A couple weeks ago, I posted about how my dog dug to China in hot pursuit of a mole. He didn't get it, but he did get himself covered in mud and earned himself a bath far too early on a Sunday morning.

If only he'd gotten the mole, I wrote, I wouldn't have been so mad about the whole ordeal.

Well, I'm not sure, but I think he might've got one this week.

Much like that Sunday morning, I let Sensi outside early Wednesday for his after-breakfast potty break and noticed he was spending longer than usual outside. This time, I didn't waste a moment going out after him. I slipped on my sandals and ran out the door, calling his name as I closed the door behind me.

But this time, he came charging at me. He was not dirty. And so, I praised him for responding so beautifully to my call, let him inside and forgot about the whole thing.

A couple hours later, I decided to sit outside on the porch to enjoy the gorgeous day. I let Sensi out with me and he meandered over to the side of the house where he last dug for the mole. My view was obstructed and I couldn't see him, but once again, I thought, "Gee, he's been over there for a while now. Wonder what he's doing."

I walked around the garden beds to see and found him lying on the grass — unusual for Sensi. He only likes to lay down on sod. Our grass is not carpet-soft, however, and he's only ever laid down on it a couple times in the three years we've lived there.

So again, I praised him — bending down to give him a good neck rub. As I bent down, the direction of my body twisted a bit and that's when I saw it. A dead mole, lying belly up, about three feet in front of Sensi's face. He wasn't lying down because he thought the grass looked good for it. Oh no, he was keeping an eye on the dead animal.

A few feet beyond the little mole carcass was a rip in the grass. It looked like the mole had been traveling along in one of his holes when snap! Something just grabbed him up, ripping the mole out of his little hole and leaving an mole-sized opening in the top of the tunnel.

Did Sensi do this? I think so. I'm not sure. But here's the behavior history that makes me think why he's responsible:

1) He got bathed the last time he dug for a mole — definitely a punishing consequence. Perhaps this led him to try a different method of getting the mole, hence the rip-out?

2) The mole had no external injuries. This totally screams Sensi's name. He doesn't know what to do with real moving prey. The closest he's ever gotten to "real moving prey" is the baby bird last summer that tried to fly out of the nest. And what did he do with that? He bumped it with his snout, catapulting the poor thing further in the air before it crashed down on our driveway and died. And then he didn't know what to do with it. I think the chances are good that if he did catch something, he'd toss it around like a toy and leave it.

3) Why would my dog leave a dead animal? We've come across dead mice and rodents here and there on our walks over the years. Like all dogs, he's tried to roll on a dead animal, but I've always been there to tell him no. He doesn't try anymore. He understands that, "Mom says leave dead animals alone."

4) Was fear of getting caught with a dead animal the reason he came running so fast toward me when I called him from his morning potty break? Maybe.

Now, my biggest doubt that he's the responsible for the dead mole comes from the fact that he simply has never caught any critter ever before. Even the baby bird was a fluke. He bumped it and the resulting fall on concrete is what caused its death — very different from chasing, seizing and holding prey.

Then again, what else would rip a mole out of its tunnel and leave it for dead on my lawn? Any wild predator — from the feral cats to the raccoons — would've eaten it.

I guess it will always be a bit of a mystery. If Sensi is responsible, I approve of the way he handled the situation. He didn't destroy the yard to get the mole, he didn't sink his teeth into it and he didn't drag it back to the front door. He just laid there, keeping an eye on it.

My Aunt and Uncle's cat and dog used to work in tandem to catch rodents. The cat would catch it, the dog would steamroll it and they'd both stand proudly by the front door with the dead rodent between their paws.

I never thought I'd have a dog-critter story to tell. Catching critters has never been my dog's strong suit.

But I know lots of dogs live for chasing down a chipmunk, so tell me, what is your dog-critter story?